BAY, AR (KAIT) - For the longest time, Abi Blankenship didn't even know that she had Ewing's sarcoma, a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or soft tissue. She ran and played, but increasingly became aware of pain when trying to raise her left leg.
"We started with the pediatrician and progressed from there," Jamie Swaim, Abi's mother said. "Finally, we had the diagnosis and ended up at St. Jude."
Swaim explained how Abi just missed being part of a clinical trial.
"The opening just closed up right before we got there," Swaim said. Both mother and daughter speak frankly about the cancer that has changed, not just Abi's life, but everyone in the family.
The pair is meeting with a small group of students from Bay Elementary. Abi is sharing her story with them in the library of the school. All of these students worked to raise money last year for Abi's trip to Hawaii, a surprise that was a huge event last October at the school.
"There was a pigeon eating bread out of my dad's hand," Abi said.
The children listen to Abi describe her days in Hawaii. Although the school is thousands of miles away from her dream destination, the gap seemed to be not that far.
"You could see down to the coral," Abi said of the adventure. She had the chance to snorkel for the first time. And, for just a while, her cancer, Ewing's sarcoma, could be forgotten. Abi could stick her toes in the sand, giggle, and have fun.
Before that, there was a big "reveal," or wish-granting inside the gymnasium at Bay High School. The wish was the culmination of lots of work on behalf of the students. Some sold paintings. Others made cookies or collected donations at their birthday parties, rather than have guests bring gifts.
While the students were working, so was Abi.
"She had seven weeks of radiation to her pelvis and her spine," Jamie said. "She was really close to being gone. She was really close to going to heaven."
But, after rounds and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Abi's scans were good. Her family could celebrate.
"We weren't the kid with cancer," Jamie said. "We were there as a family." Those joyous moments were perfect and wonderful.
But, sadly not long after, scans would reveal the cancer was back. Abi's relapse has been difficult for everyone in her family—but especially tough on her.
"It's hard. It's emotional," Jamie said. Abi understands the reality of it all perhaps a bit too much. As her mother talks about the struggles, Abi wipes tears from her eyes. Abi goes for treatments.
Because she lives in Marion, and close to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, she can still go to school part-time too.
She's met celebrity after celebrity, been an advocate for children with childhood cancer, and even appeared in St. Jude commercials.
"Where are you from?," Abi turns to comedian Jimmy Kimmel and poses the question. "I don't know," Kimmel responds. "I was a baby when I was born." The response elicits much laughter.
But, laughter is sometimes hard to muster these days. Abi longs for a life without cancer, before life was turned upside down.
"All she sees is she just wants to be your normal nine-year-old girl," Jamie said.
"We definitely feel the effects of cancer," Jamie said looking at her daughter. Abi wipes a few more tears. She remembers having long blonde hair. "She says, 'I just wish I could go back to life before cancer,'" Jamie explains.
When life was simple, there was smiling and fun, like the time one wish came true.
Abi is in the fight of her life. While you or I don't have the power to change that, we have the ability to give.
Dig deep in your wallet today. Make a donation at one of the many bucket brigade locations or phone in your donation to the Jonesboro Radio Group at 870-933-8800.